Thursday, June 4, 2015 by Tyler Whitson

Split extra quarter-cent fund among districts, committee says

Deciding how to use leftover funds can be a challenge, but the City Council Mobility Committee came quickly to a consensus Wednesday to recommend that about $21.8 million of available transportation improvement funds be distributed equally among the city’s 10 districts.

The money in question is the balance of the quarter-cent fund, which consists of revenue that the Capital Metropolitan Transit Authority earned between 2001 and 2004 and agreed to provide to the city for transportation projects.

“One of the things that I experienced – and I’m sure others did, too – in talking with folks in the district is that it’s those local projects that they can see that will make a difference. Local, maybe smaller-cost projects,” said Council Member Ann Kitchen, who chairs the committee.

“Maybe it’s timely for us to spend these funds on that kind of approach, understanding, of course, that there’s much larger projects that we’ve got to sink our teeth in and put larger dollars towards,” Kitchen concluded.

The committee recommended on a 3-0 vote that Council write a resolution directing staff not only to disburse the remaining funds equitably among districts, but to follow certain procedures and criteria for determining which projects to pursue in each district.

Some of the parameters that the committee provided include improving access to transit and schools, constructing new traffic signals, addressing existing infrastructure needs, increasing transportation safety and investing in traffic-calming devices.

Members of the public, including representatives from the city-run bicycle and pedestrian advisory councils, provided their own suggestions for projects the city should pursue.

These include improving the Upper Boggy Creek Trail, expanding the B-cycle bicycle sharing program, investing in safety and mobility improvements on Pleasant Valley Road over Longhorn Dam, improving the Country Club Creek Trail, constructing new sidewalks, connecting existing sidewalks and holding onto the funds to use for a future mass transit project.

The committee recommended that Council include these as examples of projects that Council members and staff should consider for their respective districts.

In addition, the committee recommended that Council members and their respective staff work with Transportation Department and Public Works Department staff on determining investment priorities for each of their districts.

Transportation Department Director Robert Spillar said that such an approach would be a “fine” way to allocate the funds. “I think that would also give us a chance to work with each Council district to make sure that good principles are being used,” he said. “Sidewalks between schools and safe routes are, I would argue, of higher value than some other sidewalks,” he added as an example.

According to Spillar, any projects that Council decides the city should fund using the money would have to be consistent with an existing interlocal agreement between the city and Capital Metro that covers local and regional transportation and mobility projects.

The agreement, Spillar said, includes provisions requiring new projects to enhance regional mobility, support public transit, provide leverage for federal or private funds or expedite a critical mobility project, at a minimum.

The Capital Metro board of directors would also need to concur with the projects that the city identifies.

According to a Transportation Department presentation, the quarter-cent fund originally totaled about $139.5 million, and the city has spent $113.4 million so far and obligated about $4.3 million to additional projects, including improvements to Airport Boulevard. The remainder of the funding was earmarked for the urban rail bond project that residents struck down in November and is now available for reinvestment.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council Mobility Committee: A City Council committee that reviews matters related to all modes of transportation.

Capital Metro: The city’s urban transportation system.

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